Taisho Kurotomesode–Glowing Pines

Vibrant Young Pine Growth With Gilded Fronds On Black Silk.

This magnificent beast qualifies as one of my first restorations. Unfortunately, that also means I didn’t think to take literally any progress pictures when I first started working on it. I also didn’t bother to save any of the original seller photos, or take any good pictures of the damage/problems. Giving a shit is hard sometimes, you know? Back then I had only so many Give-A-Shit slots.

Anyway. This is the second piece I ever replaced kinsai (gold paint) on, and the first piece I ever seriously addressed serious fading on. When she came to me, there was significant fading on the sleeves, on the upper back, and around the left panel kamon (family crest) in front. I mean it wasn’t black up there or even kind of a dusky grey. It was goddamn shit brown. And between writing out these sentences, I’ve been flipping through my oldest pictures of it, and making pissy faces that I don’t have at least one photo that illustrates this very well. Oh well. I guess you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

Now that I say that, I don’t think taking my word for it will difficult, because if you look closely then you will see that the fading is way better, but it’s certainly not perfect. This was my first shot at such a thing, and while I practiced on some beyond-repair kimonos and scraps of cloth, I think any craftsperson or goddamn psychopath artisan will tell you that doing it live is monumentally different. Honestly, I’m just glad it stands up to time so far. I had this piece for about two years before I attempted to repair it, but that still makes it almost nine years ago.

She’s not really as elaborate as some of the other pieces in my collection, but as I’ve said before, I like things that are striking. And this one struck me. I cannot help but wonder what was going through the original artist’s mind to make the matsu (pines) these colors. What did they see that inspired them to do this? I see the fresh young pine cones coming in, and they’ve been gilded, and that doesn’t surprise me. A lovely choice, yes. The rich thick green of mature growth, also delightful and expected. But this hard nearly cadmium yellow and deep red? The actual hell is that? Were they supposed to be dying branches? I don’t think so, this is an auspicious formal gown. Suffice to say, it would be kind of fucking weird to put dead things on it. Also, they’re sporting the same gilded young pine cones as the green ones.

It’s not even just the color choices that had me interested; it’s that these are actually pretty honest depictions of pine branches. They’re not exactly photo-realistic, but they’re not the stylized poofy cloud style that shows up frequently in all manner of colors. Here’s a good example of what I mean by that:

On the left we have today’s kimono, and on the right we have this nightmare that has become a bigger, angrier project than I thought it was going to be and is sitting in the corner thinking about what it’s done right now. And these are both depictions of pine.

That’s why I bought it even though it was so faded up top. I didn’t even have the idea, yet, when I made the decision, that I would bother to restore it. I wasn’t attempting to do insane ambitious shit like remedy fading or sun bleaching yet. I just wanted to have this art. Then, two years later, I’d gently remove the lining from the shell and work on the fading.

I’ve been asked a few times, privately, how I handle fading/sun bleaching. And it’s a good question, because I think fading and sun bleaching are probably the two biggest dealbreakers/reasons I tend to be able to buy a piece cheaply. So being able to address it and minimize it is a pretty nice skill to have. That said, I’m pretty fucking wishy-washy about making a tutorial on that. It’s not that I don’t want to share the information or anything selfish like that. In fact, the more kimono we keep from being incinerated as burnable trash (this is a real thing), the better. PRESERVE ALL THE ART, GOD DAMMIT. But this is one of those things that I do that takes a lot of time, a certain amount of skill, a pair of giant steel balls, and is not easy. It is entirely possible to fuck up your kimono a thousand times worse than it was before while doing what I do.

I can throw a thousand disclaimers on shit as much as I want, but until I feel confident explaining the process in such a way that a reader would feel very confident trying it, or otherwise be able to make a rational decision not to…that one stays up my sleeve for a bit.

Moving on.

The kinsai was actually rather simple, to address. More so than my first go-round with it on this piece, so there actually isn’t much to talk about with it other than showing off where it shines the most. So I’ll so that instead:

The little squares there, to my understanding, are depictions of fractured ice. Fucking delightful.

This kurotomesode (married women’s auspicious formal black kimono with five crests) was purchased direct from Japan probably in late 2009, so I’ve had it for awhile. I was told at the time by the original seller that it was a Taisho Era piece and I’ve marked it as such even though I don’t have an exact year of manufacture. Typically, I’m actually pretty goddamn strict about labeling things like that, as I’ve said before, because of how short that era was and how desirable its items are. I’ve made an exception here, and the reality is that I’m actually just not feeling particularly inclined to argue with the person that sold it to me. Between the rich texture of the silk, the screaming red lining, the gradient between black and hazy grey behind the pines, and the layers and layers of tones to create the pine needles? Close enough.

Fight me.

And that’s pretty much the end of this one’s story. It has been a little bit of a struggle to catalogue some of the pieces I’ve had the longest in the context of this blog, because I can tell you what I did about the problems with it until I’m goddamn blue in the face, but all you get are the pictures I have of it now. Fucking riveting, I know.


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